Touring Cars: Thompson aims to ruin the Nissan party

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH Touring Car Championship drivers' title battle reaches a crucial point as the series makes its annual pilgrimage to the tight, twisty Knockhill circuit in Scotland this weekend.

A good meeting for Nissan's Laurent Aiello and David Leslie may put them beyond the reach of the chasing pack, but James Thompson could wreck it all for the Nissan pair, and his employers, Honda, have wheeled in a big gun to strengthen their campaign. The former champion Gabriele Tarquini takes a break from his Honda campaign in Germany and will drive a third Accord, alongside Thompson and the Dutchman Peter Kox, in Scotland.

The Honda is reckoned to suit the eccentric Knockhill track - there are none of the high-speed corners on which the car has struggled this year and there is a long uphill straight where their powerful engine can really make a difference. Honda's ploy will have come off if its cars lock out the top places in each of Sunday's races - with Thompson in front. Then the Englishman would be close enough to give him a realistic shot at the title over the remaining three meetings after Knockhill.

By contrast, if Aiello and Leslie - backed by their own third man, the independent runner Matt Neal - bag the majority of the points, and the bad luck that has dogged Thompson in recent rounds continues, then the coveted drivers' crown looks certain to go to Nissan. They are currently separated by just 10 points and the Scot Leslie will hope his experience at the Fife track will allow him to overhaul his French team-mate. Aiello, however, is adept at learning new tracks - one of the most impressive aspects of his campaign to date.

Jason Plato and Rickard Rydell will be looking to gatecrash the Honda/Nissan party. Volvo's Rydell is in top form and both he and Renault's Plato have ambitions to take third place in the title race off Thompson. In fact, Plato is even more keen than usual to impress as he looks for a new employer - Renault is pulling out at the end of the season.

Plenty of others have big hopes this weekend, too, with Neal the most likely man to end up with a smile on his face as he closes in on the Michelin Cup for Independents.